May 5, 2020
RE: Coastal Gaslink’s continued work during COVID-19
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Horgan, Minister Dix, Minister Hadju, and Minister Bennett,
We are writing today on behalf of YouthCO HIV & Hep C Society, a youth-led organization that addresses HIV and Hep C stigma. We are writing today to express our concern about the ongoing Coastal GasLink construction amid the multiple states of emergency that have been declared related to COVID-19. We, along with many Indigenous youth from across the province of British Columbia, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and many other organizations, are concerned about the isolated northern communities that are at increased risk of COVID-19 as a result of continued construction in their territories. We ask that you act now to close the Coastal GasLink site: constructing pipeline is not an “essential service,” especially without consent from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
As an organization that addresses the impacts of HIV and Hep C stigma on youth across BC, we see the connections between the current and past ways Indigenous people have been displaced from their land, language, and culture, and today's experiences of health and social inequities. In the midst of COVID-19, we recognize the continued need for government action in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, and for immediate mobilization to prevent the harms that COVID-19 can cause in these communities. Our ask is aligned with the many asks from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, our organization, and others, in solidarity with Unist’ot’en. Our full Solidarity Statement was released February 13, 2020, prior to the current precautions that are being taken in relation to COVID-19.
We urge you to take immediate action to suspend Coastal GasLink activities at this time, in respect the free prior and informed consent protocol of Wet’suwet’en, the traditional ways the Wet’suwet’en relate to the land at Unist’ot’en, and the potential for outbreaks at worksites as we have now seen here in British Columbia and elsewhere in the country. Operations at the Coastal GasLink site, including the continued presence of workers, puts Elders, hereditary chiefs and Wet’suwet’en people at higher risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. It is crucial that we take all actions possible to prevent COVID-19 exposure within Wet’suwet’en, and work to protect the Elders who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. As Elders, these individuals hold unique teachings, governance roles, language, and cultural knowledge that is irreplaceable.
As recommended by Public Health officials, including the provincial and federal government, only essential services and workers are able to operate during this time. As defined by the BC Government, “an essential service is considered critical to preserving life, health and societal functioning.” We are concerned about the designation of Coastal GasLink as an essential service, and urge you to close the site at this time.
YouthCO supports Wet’suwet’en people, and the Indigenous youth and leaders who are standing with Wet’suwet’en during this time of physical distancing. We will continue to work to support Indigenous youth leadership and self-determination of nations across what we now call British Columbia. We express our solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and their jurisdiction and governance in Unist’ot’en, Gidimt’en, and across their unceded territory.
We look forward to seeing your leadership to ensure the full implementation of UNDRIP, and your commitment to truth and reconciliation in action. We would be pleased to meet with you to further explain our concerns, and look forward to your response to the concerns we have raised.
Nona Marchand, Yúusnewas Educator
Amanda Tallio, Cultural Connections Coordinator
Sarah Chown, Executive Director